Recently, I have heard several people say this and read it a good bit in some on-line articles. I don’t really watch television much but what tiny bit I do, I have heard this or something very similar on several occasions. It is a little saying that lots of people say but really, it’s an underlying life philosophy. Here it is:
I need to learn to love myself.
Or some variation of this. Learn to love yourself or something along those lines.
I have some problems with this idea. If you are a Christian, you should have some issues with it as well. Let’s talk, first, about our society for a sec. We live in a self-obsessed society. I’m almost 50 years old and I cannot remember a time in my life that this has become so obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a recent phenomenon. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, giving in to an inflated sense of their own power and dreams of grandeur (“ye shall be as gods”), this has been part of the human condition. People loving them some themselves is obvious and rampant throughout Holy Scripture and world history.
At the root of this notion of self-love is really pure selfishness. I think we can all see from even a cursory browsing of most news outlets or social media..heck, even a walk through a local mall, that self-love is rampant these days.
I want to take a quick second and tell you that there is a difference between thinking you’re a piece of crap and self-loathing and humility. Of course, we are to be humble. But humility is not thinking that you are worthless. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who defined humility as not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.
St. Paul is helpful for us as we consider humility. Philippians 2:3-8 tells us,
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”(emphasis mine)
St. Paul tells us that we are to have a lowliness of mind and that we are to follow the example of our Lord Jesus who humbled Himself and became obedient. St. Paul ties obedience and humility to each other. We’re going to come back to that later. St. Paul further reminds us in Romans 12:3 that a man is to “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly..” We are to examine our hearts and souls and actions and compare it to the standard.
Icontinually hear people say, “I’m a good person.” My response to that is always, “Good according to whom or by what standard?”
And what standard are we to judge ourselves by? Did Christ have anything to say about being good? As a matter of fact, He did. In Luke 18:19, we read this,
“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” This was in response to a man asking Jesus a question and calling Him, “good teacher.” So, when we say that we’re a good person, perhaps we need to check our standard. Only One is good, our Lord tells us…and it ain’t you or me.
I think before we dare to call ourselves good, we need to take a really hard and honest look at ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am a very great sinner. The thoughts that come from my heart and mind are many times so vile that I am shocked. I shouldn’t be but I sometimes am. As Jesus reminds us, we are defiled by what comes from within us (Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:15). Why would we love ourselves when what comes from inside us is so vile and filthy and wretched? The prophet Isaiah tells us,
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” (Is. 64:6-8)
Love ourselves? Our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our iniquities have taken us away. We are merely the clay; He is the potter. We are entirely in His hands.
Rather than “loving ourselves,” we should rather take a sober assessment of ourselves and the condition of our soul and heart. St. Maximos the Confessor wrote quite a bit about self-love. He said it was rooted in selfishness and pride and was the “mother of all passions.” By the way, passions are a bad thing.
So, how do we have a proper view of ourselves and not fall into “the mother of all passions?” I want to go back to something really quick for that answer. Remember what St. Paul talks about in Philippians and the mind of Christ. What did he tie together?
Humility and obedience.
I think obedience is one of the major keys to a proper opinion of oneself and humility. After all, our Lord Jesus Himself was obedient, as St. Paul reminds us, even to the point of death. Christ Himself said He came not to do His own will but the will of the Father (John 4:34, 5:30 and 6:38). And Christ gave us commands that we are to follow. After all, our life is not our own just to be lived for our enjoyment (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Rather, as the Psalmist reminds us in Ps. 143:10, we are to cry, “Teach me to do Thy will.”
Christ said hard things that don’t sound like we’re supposed to “love ourselves.” He said things like, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” and “He who loves his father or mother, or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” and “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom.”
None of that sounds like, “love yourself.” That sounds like, “Give yourself away. Recognize who you really are and how dark your heart is without me.”
As Father Seraphim Rose (+1982) said,
“Carry your cross without complaint. Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are.”
Pray for me, brothers and sisters. Pray for yourself and each other.
I heard somewhere that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the greatest trick the devil has pulled is creating a false Christianity, a false truth.
Especially in the West.
Think about it. Look around you at what passes for Christianity in the West today. It is a “faith” that has a shiny coat of paint on it, a thin veneer of “Jesus” but lacks the substance, belief and practice of the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
I run in to this often these days. People in my circle sound good. They talk about going to church, call themselves Christians and maybe even do what they call praying. But once you start digging a bit and asking questions, that so-called faith starts to show some cracks.
For example, when I argue that Christians should probably not watch TV, I get lambasted. I have had eyes rolled; I’ve been laughed at. I even got called a prude. But, let us consider the words of St. Paul,
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8).
Can anyone reading this really say that the vast majority of things you see on TV these days is anything but honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous or praiseworthy? Can anyone reading this say that anything they see on TV is any of these things? Even if you find a sporting event that seems innocuous, you have to deal with the commercials that push all sorts of sordid agendas.
Or, read the end of Romans 14:23, where St. Paul says, “…for whatever is not of faith is sin.” Whoa. Now, I want to be fair. In this text, St. Paul is speaking specifically about meat offered to idols and other things like that, but this is relatable to every aspect of our lives. Or Romans 12:1-2,
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Again, can any of us believe that what we see on TV is the way we need to present our bodies as living sacrifices or the way we are to live holy lives? Can we honestly say that, by consuming the things of the world, we are transforming our minds to be renewed in Christa and prove what is good, acceptable, perfect or the will of God?
I think not.
But what our enemy has done is to make us complacent. He has created for us a false version of Christianity. It’s kind of like the Matrix. It’s a version of truth but not actually the truth. He has done this since the beginning. Look back at the Garden. We find it in Genesis 3. If you’re not familiar with the story, go read it right now. Look at what satan did. He deliberately used what God had made as good and slightly changed the phraseology. God told Adam in Genesis 2 that he was free to eat of any tree of the Garden, except the one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But what does the enemy say? He takes what God says and twists it. Look at Genesis 3. The enemy asked (I’m paraphrasing), “Did God really say you can’t eat of any of the trees in the Garden?”
The enemy knew exactly what God had said. See how he twisted it? That is not what God said. And then he brought to humanity the great temptation that we all experience. Instead of obedience and living as God has commanded and as His Church tells us to, the enemy creates a false narrative.
Where God said, “Let us make man in Our image,” the enemy says, “Let us make God in our image.”
And this is where we get this pseudo-Christianity that is so popular in the West. Rather than obey what God has said to His people and what Christ gave to the Apostles and told them to pass it on; rather than obey that, we have to make things in our own image.
Fasting is too extreme and people will think you’re a fanatic.
Don’t prostrate yourself physically before God (at times) when you pray because it’s hard on your knees.
Don’t burn incense because it makes people sneeze. Don't have long services; people have things to do.
It’s okay to listen to worldly, lustful music because it’s not actually hurting you. It’s got a good beat.
Don’t worry about what the school system is teaching your children. They’ll be fine.
Who cares if you cuss a little? And don’t worry about what kind of clothes you’re wearing; it’s fine.
And whatever you do, don’t be too fanatical about attending all those services that the Church holds throughout the year and observe all those feasts and fasts. I mean, if you did, you’d be forming your whole life and schedule around the life of Christ and the Church. We can’t have that now, can we?! I mean, we can’t be living like Christians have always lived and believed what Christian have always believed, right?!
Most modern people who call themselves Christians are much more concerned with their own comfort than they are obedience to Christ and His Church. Let’s be honest.
Jesus had some hard things to say at times. He said that we were to take up our cross and follow Him. He said that some would lose their families and livelihoods and even their lives because of Him. He said that those who put their hand to the plow and looked back were not fit for the Kingdom.
He had hard things to say.
But, luckily for us, He gave us His Church, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The Church is where Christ is found!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us turn away from the world. Let us turn away from this thinly veiled worldly culture that has a shiny coat of “Jesus paint” on it. This is not Christianity. The Church has been with us, virtually unchanged since our Lord and His Apostles started it. As Pentecost approaches, let us turn again to the Church.
Let us turn again to Christ.